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Rebuilding a life and giving back with Roots Yoga

Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Jonathan Taylor Roots Yoga owner Amber Shakti opened up her Sterling studio in August 2012. Shakti, who has taught in other Loudoun County locations for several years, is committed to letting low-income clients “pay what they can.”

Amber Shakti is confident things will work out. So are those who know her well.

Never mind that the economy is still in a less than welcoming state and Shakti is in her first year of owning a new business. Never mind that that business is a yoga studio – not exactly a venture promising quick and huge returns. And never mind that one of the unique elements of Shakti’s studio, Roots Yoga in Sterling, is that the business owner will allow low-income or impoverished clients to “pay what they can,” an offering certain to be taken advantage of by a few patrons.

Things will work out for Shakti, a former U.S. Army sergeant, because she knows how to survive.

Shakti knows what it’s like to lose a business, and it’s not fun. She knows what it’s like to lose her son for a year … even less fun. And Shakti knows what it’s like to lose a nephew. And while that could have crushed her, she survived.

She knows her new business will do the same.

Doing her own thing

“There’s not enough love in the world.”

This is what Shakti’s nephew wrote before taking his own life in late 2011. Sadly, her nephew was right — there isn’t enough love in the world. But how could there ever be enough love in the world? What’s the adequate level of love in the world?

It’s one of those questions without an answer. Shakti knows that. But she also believes there’s something she can do about it. She can provide at least a small dose of love and compassion to the consistently too-short supply. She can teach yoga. She can inspire through yoga, and strengthen bonds by teaching what she considers her art – internal bonds between loved ones and bonds between strangers.

Through yoga, Shakti injects into people’s lives all those indefinable, abstract qualities that make up the quilt of love: inner-peace, tranquility, self-assurance, compassion.

But in the months after her nephew’s passing, Shakti realized if she was going to use yoga to make an honest impact in the world, it was going to have to be her way.

At the time, Shakti was teaching, or had previously taught, at a number of studios in Loudoun County and in the region, including Lifetime Fitness and the Spring Hill recreation center. She also gave private quasi-private instruction to well-to-do clients and larger companies. Simply put, her reputation and income as a yogi was strong.

“There’s always been this special, unique quality about Amber,” said Eddy Anaya, a long-time student of Shakti’s. “She makes each student feel special and individual. She’s just a very inspiring person.”
Anaya said Shakti single-handedly made yoga a passion of his, something he calls a blessing.
“She just touched my heart,” Anaya said.

A new venture

Tucked away in a small plaza off Shaw Road, Roots Yoga is identified by only a small red neon sign declaring “Yoga.” Its modesty is part of its charm.

During an early January “Yin” class – 90 minutes of deep stretching – the studio was near capacity with 13 or 14 students. Some pay full price, while others are part of Shakti’s unique pricing opportunities.

Yoga can be expensive, nearly $20 a class or well more than $100 a month, which likely deflects people who may be curious about the practice but don’t have the expendable income. Part of Shakti’s willingness to offer students discounted rates comes from her desire to expand the art’s popularity, as well as her own. But the reality of the world – and, to some extent, survival – requires Shakti bring in revenue to keep the studio afloat.

Of her “pay what you can” philosophy, she said, “It’s better to have some people in here paying $6 than have a half-full class.”

She considers the studio like a baby tree: “It needs a lot to grow, but the desire is there.”

Shakti still teaches corporate and one-on-one classes to wealthy clientele as way to keep on top of Roots’ finances. Month-by-month since the studio opened in August 2012, business has been increasing.

Raves of Roots can be found throughout the web.

“Just finished 90 minutes of Yin Yoga with the amazing Amber Shakti. I went to my Heaven on Earth! I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight!” wrote a student on Shakti’s Facebook time line.

Another former student, now a teacher herself, thanked Shakti for starting her down the road of yoga.

On Yelp, a reviewer said Shakti’s Yin classes were the main reason she kept her membership at Lifetime Fitness.

“ … [Shakti’s classes] not only helped me de-stress after a long week, but I became much more flexible, my chronic muscular and joint pain was reduced immensely,” the reviewer writes. “After I left the studio, I had a hard time finding a proper ‘fit’ in a studio that had the classes I wanted (Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin) at times and a location convenient for me. Recently, there was an offer on Specialicious for a new studio and when I saw that it was Amber’s own studio, I was ecstatic. I’ve been going now for a month and am thrilled with the results.”

Building from the ground up

Shakti may still be in her inaugural year as the owner of Roots, but she’s no rookie when it comes to the business world. She founded and ran a consulting business, One Task At A Time, in the 1990s and through the early 2000s. There Shakti helped clients with a wide variety of tasks, working with lawyers, accountants and the IRS to organize and review legal work.

“I was the problem solver and in many cases I had full power of attorney to read documents, submit responses, negotiate settlements, whatever the task at hand,” Shakti noted.

But in the economic downturn following 9/11, work dried up and business shuttered.

“It was a luxury service. When people started cutting back, we were something they didn’t have to spend on,” Shakti said.

The following years, essentially the first half of the 2000s, Shakti saw a period of severe struggle. Job after job passed her by, and as a couple years went by her world became unraveled. Money got short. She was evicted from her apartment. She ended up living in what was basically a storage closet with a bucket for a bathroom, she said. The worst – she had to send her son to live with his father in California for an unknown period.

Defeated and depressed, Shakti had reached her low point.

“What is a human being supposed to do when life happens?” Shakti said. “It’s funny, we need a crisis to help people, otherwise we don’t see them as fit or deserving of help.”

A crisis arrived at the door of Shakti’s broken home. She was alone, she said, “feeling dead quite honestly, no address, no phone and no one checking on me.”

Yet through people, she survived. She found a family renting out space in their house, giving a more stable place for Shakti and, eventually, her son. She earned a scholarship to attend the well-respected Kripalu yoga training program in Massachusetts, and her career as a yogi began in earnest.

Shakti’s art played a prime role in her recovery from the abyss. Yoga taught her love and compassion, two things she was lacking for herself at the time, she said. And the horror of losing a 17-year-old loved one, a young man who couldn’t bear the lack of love in the world, left her with no option but to try to change that, one student at a time. She knows, she hopes that’s enough to grow her business of passion.

“If she just sticks to her guns, the business will work,” Eddie Anaya said.

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Amber is a truly special and inspiring woman. She helped instill in me a love of yoga. She is an incredible role model on how to bring love into the world.

Amber is simply the best there is. There is no way to describe her other than that.  She’s the best there is.

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